Pub Rants

Publishers Behaving Badly–Again

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STATUS: Okay, if I don’t blog in the morning, it looks like it’s not happening so more early morning blogging to come.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HER FIRST MISTAKE by Lyle Lovett

Several agent friends have confirmed that Macmillan sent a letter over the weekend asking authors to sign amendments that gave them electronic rights to backlist titles.

Oh Shades of Random House hegemony!

By the way, these letters went out to authors—not to the agents or agencies who represent them.

Tsk, tsk. I wag my finger at you Macmillan.

If you are an author and you received this letter, do not sign or return it without consulting with your agent or attorney first. If you haven’t got either, then pick up the phone and call the Authors Guild. I know the lawyers over there and they’d be happy to take a look at this amendment that has been sent out (if they haven’t seen it already).

Whatever you do, make sure you have a complete understanding of your rights and what you’d be granting if you signed the amendment and what other options exist if you don’t.

This has been a public service message from Agent Kristin… *grin*

22 Responses

  1. Perry said:

    Shades of Motown.

    This gives me shivers that history keeps repeating with artists and business.

    I hope that people do make sure they protect themselves and get the right payment for their work whether they hand over the rights or not.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Wendy Tyler Ryan said:

    The world of publishing is beginning to seem like a very scary place. The whole “rights” thing is starting to get very complicated. I have been looking into epublisher Carina Press (Harlequin) and would love your thoughts on this, Kristin. They are asking for full rights for seven years and even though they say that right now, they aren’t doing “print”, that it may be a possibility in the future. What if they decide to go to print in that seven year period? What does that mean for us authors as far as rights go? Do you think Carina Press might be a good first stepping stone for an unpublished writer? Or would you steer clear?

  3. David Kearns said:

    I have received this letter. I have asked several agents to rep. me for these rights.
    I am getting the same blithe rejections I have come to adore from agents.
    More than one told me “agents don’t represent just e-rights. You’ll have a hard time finding one that does that.”
    In the same breath many will admit, this is where the business is going. Better stated, one day, all publishing rights will be merely the e-rights.
    I am not sure what agents do anymore apart from rejecting people. Here I have a book previously published: there is no work, none, apart from negotiating the percentages from a publisher who is obviously looking to deal and interested in publishing it in the new format. I might not like the new format either, but I have come to accept that in this market like to eat.
    There is also considerable cinematic potential in the work and I have retained all movie rights.

  4. Anthony said:

    “By the way, these letters went out to authors—not to the agents or agencies who represent them.”

    That was not polite.

  5. Bob Mayer said:

    I see no purpose in reverting backlist erights to a publisher. What are they going to do for you? I’ve published my own backlist of 15 books and am selling many more than my publisher would. Granted, it required me to get my own cover art, formatting, etc. etc. which required me to essentially form my own publishing company. Traditional publishers controlled distribution. They don’t with eBooks. My books are on Kindle, in the iBookstore and we sell electronic forms ourselves. Any authors with backlist rights who are interested, drop me a line.

  6. Ann Marie Gamble said:

    On the plus side, this letter acknowledges that e-rights are something to explicitly bestow–the rights don’t pass implicitly because of previous agreements–and that attitude isn’t universal.

  7. Susan Gourley/Kelley said:

    I know it’s a business and publishers are in it to make money but this kind of thing really raises doubts about publishers caring anything about their authors. I certainly know my publisher doesn’t.

  8. Amy B. said:

    Thanks for the FYI, Kristin! Our agency received some letters for our authors today, and I did wonder at the randomness that seemed to be applied in which authors and works they wanted e-rights for. Now I’ll check to see if they went out to our other authors directly.

    @David Kearns: As someone who just spent all day dealing with these letters, and will spend some more days to come, let me assure you that it is not as simple as negotiating percentage points. Would that it were. Also, our agency, and most agents I know, don’t want to represent an author for just one project/right, they want to represent the author throughout their career. I would never sign an author simply because they have a deal in hand; it would, frankly, be cheating the author.

  9. Abby Minard said:

    Every time you post something like this, it just affirms my belief that having an agent is the only way to go. I wouldn’t want to deal with this on my own. Thank goodness for you and your colleagues and all you do.

  10. Giles Hash said:

    Growing up in the music industry, I tend to get paranoid about my rights as an artist. I would DEFINITELY refer that letter to my agent/attorney. After all, I would MUCH rather let someone who KNOWS what they’re doing advise me instead of hoping that I can figure the contract out on my own.

    I do hope other authors are making the same choice 🙂

    Thanks for the tip.

  11. Trish said:

    Oooo, looks like J.A. Konrath (who took his backlist and is making $$$$$ on it for himself on Kindle) and other authors are smarter than the publishers now. Wasn’t Konrath just castigated for this recently in PW?

    I think he’s smarter than Macmillan.


  12. author Scott Nicholson said:

    Trish, you can hardly expect PW to celebrate Konrath’s accomplishments. He achieved his success outside PW strictures, and it’s an industry magazine, so of course he is now a pariah where he was previously a mere curiosity. Let’s see who goes out of print first–PW or Konrath.

    Any author signing for less than 25 percent ebook royalties either has a lousy agent or is just plain faithless. I think 40 to 50 percent is a good starting point–but even then, 70 percent on your own sounds a lot better.

    Scott Nicholson

  13. Isobel Carr said:

    Konrath did not take is “backlist”. Those books are too new for his rights to have reverted. He took books that he’d never sold (you now, the “under the bed” books) and self-published them. He also took his latest Jack Daniels sequal and did this, because his publisher wouldn’t pay him the advance he wanted. I know several people having good luck with this same scheme.

    But let us all remember the math here: eBooks are less than 5% of sales for most genre fiction that is published in mass market (it’s more like 1% for most of the people I’ve talked to). So even if you triple the royalty %, you’d have to sell a HELL of a lot more copies to make the same money (and if you’re not someone like Konrath, with a NY-publisher-created fan base already in place, there’s almost no chance of pulling this off).

    Konrath stated that he wanted $100K for his new contract, which is why he walked. Let’s assume that’s a standard 3 book contract. To earn that, he’d have to sell 16K+ copies of each of the three books (assuming that he’s really getting 70% of the $2.99 price). That’s not unreasonable, but it’s unlikely based on the sales history of that series (hence his publishers refusal to pay him that much for it).

    If anyone can pull this off and make it work, it’s Konrath. That said, I have no plans to follow in his footsteps.

  14. Joe Konrath said:

    He also took his latest Jack Daniels sequel and did this, because his publisher wouldn’t pay him the advance he wanted.

    Where did that rumor come from?

    My publisher dropped their mystery line. My books are in multiple printings and have earned out their six figure advance.

    Amazon is publishing, in ebook and print, my next Jack Daniels novel.

    My “under the bed novels” are earning me over 100k per year–maybe that’s where you got that figure.

    To earn that, he’d have to sell 16K+ copies of each of the three books

    By October, I’ll have sold 100,000 self-published ebooks. 16k per title is not only doable, it’s a very low estimate.

    If anyone can pull this off and make it work, it’s Konrath.

    Thanks! 🙂 But I’m not the only one doing this. And watch as more and more authors do the same thing.

    Incidentally, my agent has sold audio rights to my self-pubbed ebooks, and is working on foreign sales.

    Hi Kristin! Didn’t mean to hijack the comment thread. Someone on my blog posted a link to here.

  15. Scathach Publishing said:

    I got tired of the whole game. I’m self-publishing my novel on Amazon as soon as my artist is finished the cover. It seems to me that there are only two honest people left in the business (Kristen, and Nathan Bransford).

    I’d never sign anything to a NY Publisher and small presses can’t get me anything I can’t get on my own.

    I think the more publishers do this, the more authors will want to do without publishers.

    Thanks, Kristen, for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  16. Jana Oliver said:

    @ Scathach Publishing – it’s wise not to employ the “never” word. You may find yourself in a position to reverse course down the line. Each “step” on the publishing ladder (self-pub, small and large press) has its positives and negatives. The issue remains that you have to gain traction for your books, build a platform. And doing it self-pubbed is a hard way to go. I wish you success. I’ve been there.